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Creative Sound BlasterX G6 Portable Sound Card Review: Hi-Res Audio Comes to Console (and PC)

By Christopher Coke on August 27, 2018 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Creative Sound BlasterX G6 Portable Sound Card Review: Hi-Res Audio Comes to Console (and PC)

Sound cards have been a staple in PC gaming for years - whether they’re internal, external, or built into the USB connection of your fancy gaming headset. Today, we’re looking at a portable sound card made to move between your PC and console of choice, all while delivering hi-res audio, full 7.1 surround sound, audio-enhancing effects and amplification for even the most demanding audiophile headphones. But for an asking price of $149, it needs to deliver. This is our review of the Creative Sound BlasterX G6 Hi-Res Gaming DAC and USB Sound Card - let’s see how it holds up!

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Specifications

  • Current Pricing: $149.99
  • Compatible with: PS4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC/Mac
  • Interface: Micro USB Type B (USB 2.0)
  • Audio Processor: SB-Axx1 (same as G5)
  • Xamp Discrete Amplifier: Yes, capable of powering headphones to 600 Ohms
  • SNR for Playback: 130dB (DAC)
  • Output: Up to 32 bits / 384 kHz (in direct output mode)
  • Input: Up to 32 bits / 192 kHz
  • Input/Output terminal:
    • Headset terminal (3.5 mm)
    • Line output (3.5 mm mini) / optical digital output (round type)
    • Line input (3.5 mm mini) / optical digital input (round type)
    • Microphone input (3.5 mm mini)
  • Controller/Indicators:
    • Power indicator
    • Play / Mic Side Tone Volume Knob / Mute Switch / Indicator
    • Scout Mode / direct mode button / indicator
    • SBX button / indicator
  • Headphone Output Gain Switch: (L side: 16 to 149 Ω / H side: 150 to 600 Ω)
  • Power Supply: USB 5V
  • Dimensions: about 111 × 24 × 70 mm
  • Weight: 144g

When Creative emailed me to see if I would be interested in checking out their new G6, I was excited. Last year, I was lucky enough to test out the Sound BlasterX E5 and enjoyed it. The two models are similar, with the G6 acting as a kind of little brother to that amplifier. At the same time, it’s the successor to the popular G5, offering higher resolution playback and a series of updates to make it perfectly suited for use with either consoles or PC.

Creative has packed a lot of blasting power in this Sound Blaster (Yes, I’m Coke, king of the dad joke - as a father of three, this is kind of what I do). Anyhow… in a package just a little bigger than a deck of cards, you have a full audio processor capable of delivering high quality 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound to transform any set of stereo headphones. Connect it to your console or PC using the included optical capable or AUX line, punch in your headset into the other end and you’re off and running with audio that is leaps and bounds ahead of what consoles and gaming motherboards can do on their own.

One of the biggest reasons for this is the included effects suite Creative calls SBX. The picture above is from the Windows Sound Blaster Connect 2 app and shows exactly what goes into the G6’s secret sauce. With a press of a button, you’ll enable a customizable preset of the above effects and immediately take your audio to the next level. Even it you’re unfamiliar with what anything in the specification list means, hearing is believing. SBX makes your audio fuller, richer, and more detailed and doesn’t sacrifice the location of audio cues to deliver its surround sound. In short, it’s the real deal - the G5 will straight up make your game more immersive.

Most of what the above does is obvious, but my personal favorite effect is the Crystalizer. The description pegs it as bringing out the detail in your music to hear it as the artist intended. It sounds a bit market-y, no? But, believe it or not, it actually seems to work and isn’t limited to just games. The effect actually does seem to bring out extra detail. It’s difficult to describe, but imagine your game as a series of layered sounds. The Crystalizer adds a degree of separation between them, indeed crystalizing those layers when they hit your ear. It’s the kind of thing you expect to be oversold and then surprises you - just don’t overdo it. Like any effect, cranking it as high as it will go is probably not the best idea.

One of the new additions in the G6 is the built in Dolby Digital Decoder. If you’re receiving a Dolby signal, the last thing you want to do is lose it just to use a new device, so it’s good to see they’ve included that here.

Whether you’re receiving Dolby or not, the included surround sound is quite good. I found that keeping it about 50% was nice level to really widen up the sound of the battlefield without washing it out with the hollow sound virtual 5.1/7.1 can fall into. Like Crystalizer, you don’t want to overdo it and at reasonable levels is very effective. In RPGs, it definitely adds to the ambient quality of your environment. In shooters, you’ll be able to pick up on the stomps of approaching enemies or discern the direction of those far off gunshots. You can also net yourself a little advantage by turning on Scout Mode to draw those particular audio cues out.

When I’m not gaming, I’ll often load up Netflix or stream music while writing. The effect is just as good there, even when positionality gets thrown out the window. Listening to PVRIS’s Empty Room sessions, the surround really delivers the ambience of being in a room as they play - more than the record alone can provide.

If you’re a gamer who cares about hi-fi audio (and you probably are if you’re reading this), you’ll be impressed to hear that the G6 is able to deliver ultra-high 32-bit/384kHz audio at its peak and provides a separate amplifier for both left and right channels. One of the reasons game sizes have become so large is because they often ship with uncompressed audio to really make them sound their best, but if your receiver (say, a TV) isn’t able to output at that same level of quality, you have gigabytes of no-good data. A device like the G6 will take whatever modern games can throw at it and send it to your ears without loss or compression no matter what platform you’re playing on.

You can use the G6 on any of the modern consoles, including the Switch, as well as PC and Mac. Connecting it to a PC or Switch allows you to use USB, doubling as a power supply, but Creative recommends using an optical connection over Xbox One. On PS4, it gives you the option of optical and/or USB over PS4. In any of these cases, you could also run a standard 3.5mm AUX cable as your source as well, if you’d like to connect the G6 to your controller, with the expected limits versus optical audio connections and the need for external power.

The best platform, as longtime MMORPG players clearly know, is PC which, at the moment, is the only place you’ll have access to the Sound Blaster Connect 2 software. Your changes save to the device, too, so you’ll need to connect it here and there if you’d like to dial in your SBX effect and more. SC2 allows you to create custom EQ profiles, adjust the level of effects on the fly, change the RGB lighting on the logo, and even use a huge array of voice changer effects. No matter where you connect, though, controlling the unit is easy, including volume and mic levels, as well as the amount of sidetone you hear in your headset.

That does bring us to the not-so-good part of the G6. Because the controls are right on the face, you’ll want to have it near you, which means at least one long wire draped across your floor. If you’re playing on Xbox, you’ll also need to connect it to the wall with an AC adapter (not included), which is just too many wires to play comfortably.

At this point, it’s worth mentioning that, yes, you can power the G6 through the Xbox’s USB ports. It won’t be recognized as an audio device but it will power-on, saving you from that wall connection. Creative doesn’t make any mention of this, probably to avoid confusion when it doesn’t pop up in your settings menu, but it works nonetheless.

Regardless, I would have loved to see the ability to control the unit over bluetooth or even wifi, which would open the door to smartphone control like on the E5. On that same token, the G6 would have really benefitted from the ability to connect to wireless headphones. It’s not much of an issue on PC, PS4, and Switch but on the Xbox, cable clutter certainly is.   

Final Thoughts

All in all, the G6 delivers on its promise of providing high-quality, enhanced with SBX effects. There’s simply no question, this DAC/Amp will make your headset sound better than ever. At $150, however, I can’t help but feel like Creative will need to adjust the pricing on the rest of their line to make this a worthwhile investment when held against. The G6 provides higher resolution audio and a Dolby Decoder, which are important, but lacks the wireless control of a unit like the E5 which is only slightly more. For pure quality and compatibility with your existing setup, though, the G6 does clearly win and offers a solid set of enhancements for every system on the market today.

Pros

  • Drastic improvements to in-game audio and video streaming
  • Wide compatibility with different gaming devices
  • Well-designed, easy hardware control
  • PC software is accessible and offers a wealth of customization

Cons

  • Somewhat expensive at suggested pricing
  • No internal battery - lots of wires
  • Sound can only be customized on the PC

The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of review.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.